Bringing Howard back from the brink following cardiac arrest

Patient Story

It was a little after 2:00 in the morning on Wednesday, August 28 when Howard Zwick’s wife started to worry. Her husband had a persistent cough for several days, had woken up because he was too uncomfortable to sleep, and was fluctuating between being too hot and too cold. Worried, she suggested they visit the emergency room. The two headed to Lankenau Medical Center only a few hours before they were due to drop their son off at college.

“When I got to the emergency room, I didn’t feel much pain. But as I was answering questions about my symptoms and explaining how I felt, I started to feel more and more discomfort. They took me back immediately, and the only thing I remember after that was going into an elevator on a gurney,” recounts Zwick.

After an echocardiogram showed elevated ST segments indicative of a heart attack, the cardiac catheterization lab was prepared for Zwick. Thanks to regular drills Lankenau holds to improve the time it takes to prepare the lab for patients, the hospital care team was able to prepare for Zwick’s arrival in 24 minutes.

Upon his arrival at the cardiac cath lab, Zwick went into cardiac arrest. As the nursing staff began CPR, Zwick was shocked a total of eight times. In an attempt to save his life, Amid Khan, MD, interventional cardiologist with the Lankenau Heart Group, performed emergency cardiac catheterization using a minimally invasive procedure while CPR was in progress.

“It’s extremely difficult to unblock an artery and perform heart catheterization when a patient doesn’t have a pulse and CPR is in progress,” said Dr. Khan. “I didn’t think there was any way we were going to revive him.”

Dr. Khan’s minimally invasive approach involved making a small puncture in the groin artery and threading a long, thin, flexible tube through a blood vessel to Zwick’s heart. He was able to clear Zwick’s blocked artery by removing the clot and performing a balloon angioplasty and stenting.

The efforts by Dr. Khan and the clinical team were successful: after CPR, eight shocks, and restored blood flow, Zwick was, essentially, brought back to life.

“I am very proud of my cath lab team for their speed, courage, efficiency, and dedication to treat such a near fatal case,” said Dr. Khan.

Following the procedure, Zwick was transported to the Intensive Care Unit, where he stayed for the next three days. Meanwhile, his family was still coping with what had happened.

“My friends and people who know me all agreed that I was probably the least likely person to have a heart attack,” he says. “I exercised, I was in reasonable shape, and I ate pretty well most of the time.”

“Despite having a family history of heart disease, Howard lived a relatively healthy lifestyle and had few risk factors for heart attack,” explains Dr. Khan. “It is rare that someone with his history could have had such near-fatal consequences. A quick response on behalf of the cardiac team was critical.”

Now, two months after his early morning admittance to Lankenau, Zwick continues to go to cardiac rehab at Lankenau three times per week, where he focuses on leg and arm exercises like the stationary exercise bike, walking on the treadmill, and light strength training. He continues to see Dr. Khan for monthly follow-up appointments, and his heart function is back to normal. He plans on a ski trip to Colorado this winter.

Of his stay at Lankenau, Zwick has only the best things to say about his care and the facilities. During his week-long stay, he was stationed in a patient room at Lankenau’s new Heart Pavilion, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to heart and vascular medicine. Among its patient-centered features includes larger rooms to accommodate patients’ families.

“The new rooms in the Heart Pavilion were great. I had a family member spend the night with me for the first two nights. Having the ability to do that in my room in a comfortable spot…that was really comforting,” says Zwick.

As for the care he received from Dr. Khan and the rest of the internists, pulmonologists, emergency department staff, and nurses, he says it was only the best.

“I found that the doctors were very caring, questioning, always willing to answer our questions and provide detailed answers,” he says. “They were very good about trying to help us understand what we were dealing with. They showed a very high level of care.”

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